Dr. Sarah Mitchell
About Author
September 21, 2020

6 Month Sleep Regression: Causes, Signs and How to Deal with It

Any time you hear “sleep regression,”  I want you to think Progress. Your baby is growing physically or neurologically and that is distracting her from going to sleep. Historically the research has not identified 6 months to be a significant time of growth or change.  Therefore, most people don’t experience a 6 month sleep regression. However, you may be in the minority where I can help.

Give your child better sleep throughout their early years with the Helping Babies Sleep School.

Do all babies go through a 6 month sleep regression?

Babies develop at different rates and so some of you might be in the midst of a raging sleep regression at 6 months, while others may be having their best sleep yet!  

Signs Your Baby is Going Through A Sleep Regression (at any age):

  1. Early morning wake ups - 5:30 am and earlier
  2. Short naps when naps were long and lovely.
  3. Bedtime resistance or nap resistance
  4. Night waking 

If your baby is an independent sleeper you will be able to recognize a 6 month sleep regression more easily than a baby who is reliant on someone to put her to sleep.  It’s much easier to see a regression in a great sleeper than a baby who woke up a lot in the night anyways.

An independent sleeper is a baby that can put herself to sleep at bedtime and naps without anything external relaxing her beforehand.  There is no rocking, feeding or pacifier as part of the bedtime routine.  This is the goal of “sleep teaching” to have an independent sleeper who can put herself back to sleep in the night if she wakes up, which all humans do in the night. 

What I’ve found with my clients and students of my online school is the most common sleep disturbance happening at 6 months is bedtime resistance.  Almost like what you were doing, isn’t as effective any longer. 

The first thing to do is to identify what the possible cause is. 

Causes of the 6 Month Sleep Regression

  1. Staying awake more than 2.5 hours before bedtime. Most kids do best with a 2.5 hour awake time at this age. Your baby is exhausted by bedtime and it manifests with trouble settling into sleep and  early 5am  wake ups

  2. Not enough nap time during the day. Your baby needs 2-3 hours of nap time during the day.   Most kids this age need 3 naps.  It is too early for most kids to be on 2 naps.

  3. Teething. Your baby surfaces from a light sleep cycle in the morning and is distracted by the discomfort in her gums which prevents her from going back to sleep.   Teeth come in at such a varied rate child to child. 

  4. Motor leaps.  Your baby is learning to roll, hover on all fours or sit up.  She surfaces from sleep and is distracted by wanting to practice or just thinking about that skill.

NOTE:  motor leaps also manifest as being awake for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the night but content and not crying.  Just hanging out in the crib!

How to Get Through This 6 Month Sleep Regression:

  1. TIMING.  Focus on the timing of sleep.  Most 6 month olds need to be back asleep by 2.5 hours. After that you risk having more night waking and early morning wake ups.

  2. Take away the distraction.  If your kiddo is teething, what can you offer to minimize pain and distraction.  Cold teething rings before nap or bedtime can help, but also talk to your pediatrician about pain killers.  Give her ample time to practice motor skills during the day.  Lots of floor and tummy time.

  3. Know that this too shall pass.   It will take 1-2 weeks to get through a regression related to motor and teething. 

Case Study #1

One of my students in Helping Babies Sleep School lamented about her baby being “content but awake” for 45 minutes to 1 hour in the middle of the night and then starting to cry. 

When I probed further we found that her little person had just learned to put herself into a sitting position.  She was waking in the night, like all humans do, and then her mind was thinking about that new motor skill.  These thoughts were distracting her from relaxing back down into sleep.  Then after being awake for 45 minutes she was feeling quite tired and crying for someone to help her back down into sleep.  Mom stayed her course.  She did one check with a “it’s sleeping time” around 10 minutes into the wake up and then tried to catch some sleep while her little one was just hanging out.  Once she started to cry she did another check at 10 minutes.  Her little one then put herself back down just after that check.  If you are responsible for “making your little one sleep,” meaning she can’t go down with you rocking or feeding, you’re just waiting there to be called.  

Case Study #2 - Teething

My previous client reported that her 6 month old son who had been sleeping 11 hours with 1 night feed was now waking up 2x a night and crying.  During the day he was visibly drooling and putting his hands to his mouth.  She was sure a tooth was on its way.  6 months is a very average age for a first tooth to come through. 

Teething is a hard thing to manage because the pain with teething is often acute before the tooth pierces through.  Once you can see the tooth the pain has receded.  It’s really a hind sight diagnosis where you’re like… “oh!  That’s why you were so fussy these past few days.”  Teething can also ebb and flow.  Meaning your baby is fussy and has some disrupted sleep for a few days but then it gets better and then gets worse again. 

My client was worried about undoing all the hard work she’d put into sleep teaching.  What to do?  I believe that we help kids who can’t help themselves.  Her kiddo has self soothing skills and now is clearly uncomfortable, we pick them up and rock them a little.  You might try and avoid nursing back to sleep if that had been your sleep challenge.  Rocking can help distract your little person about what is bugging them and distracting them from relaxing into sleep.  Will this undo all your sleep teaching?  It depends on your child’s temperament.  Some kids go right back to sleeping like a champ after teething but some kids might continue to wake up having enjoyed the rocking and wanting more. 

In conclusion, you may or may not feel the 6 month sleep regression.  However, if your baby has always been waking up more than 1x a night after 5 months of age your baby might be waking out of habit, asking for you to help put him/her back to sleep.  You might want to read more about “Self Soothing Skills” and why your baby needs them.

Looking for more guidance on teaching your baby to sleep long age appropriate stretches? 
Helping Babies Sleep School can teach you how and guide you through the process.

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